For those of you looking for baseball analysis, you'll have to visit our sister blog at www.spaintravellog.com. My two-week trip was through Andalusia with stops in Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, and Sevilla. Sadly, relevant stories of my travails begin on October 22nd when I went up for a rebound against a 6th grader, got the rebound and landed awkwardly, spraining a ligament in my left ankle and chipping off part of the ankle bone (avulsion fracture). Apparently my first thought was, "I should travel somewhere that has a lot of cobblestone!" Because 8½ weeks later I flew to Spain. Or tried to, anyway.
Getting To Spain
Getting to Spain was no easy feat (especially considering that I had no easy feet). I had a flight from SFO to Amsterdam with a connection from Amsterdam to Madrid, with only 1 hour and 40 minutes to get through customs and catch my second flight.
I landed in Amsterdam 10 minutes early and the flight attendant had advised me that I needed to go to a "Transfer Station" to get my boarding pass for the flight to Madrid. She said I could just go to a kiosk, put in my passport, and it would be quick and easy. I had ample time to get through customs, print out my boarding pass, and meet my mom at the gate (she had flown ahead to Amsterdam 10 days before). Except...
The kiosk said sorry, they could not recognize the passenger -- meaning either I was wearing a different shirt than when I booked or else they had no record of my flight. I asked an airport attendant what I should do and she told me needed to stand in that long line over there -- the one that wasn't really moving. Now I was a little anxious, but I still had an hour to get to the gate. Then I had 55 minutes, then 50, then 45, and the line really wasn't moving. Finally it was 35 minutes before my flight and I could see I wasn't going to make it.
I asked what should I do? Just go to the gate and plead my case? The attendant said, "Might as well." So for the first time in 8½ weeks, I kind of ran on my bad ankle -- really more like a limping canter. I believe it's officially known as a "Frank Thomas". Thanks to a combination of adrenaline and Nick Punto-like grit and moxie, I got to the gate still with 30 minutes to go before the flight. (No, I did not dive head first into the boarding area for no apparent reason.) At the gate, the lady explained, "Yes, the kiosk and that line won't work; for this flight you can only check in at the gate." I thought, "That was sure a bad use of my last 45 minutes," but at least I was at the gate where they would check me in.
"So our flight is full," the lady continued. "Mm-hmm," I replied. Yes, flights can be quite full, whatever. "I don't have a seat for you. I'm putting you on stand-by." "Mm-hmm ... wait, WHAT???" She went on to explain what I already knew: The airlines are allowed to oversell by 10% and then boot some of the people off the flight if too many people show up. And because I was "only 30 minutes early" I was too late to check in before they filled the flight.
Never mind that I booked and paid for my flight 3 months ago, reserving a specific seat on the plane. Never mind that my entire trip was planned with catching this flight in mind. Never mind that I only got to the gate as late as I did because airline and airport personnel kept giving me faulty instructions that I dutifully followed. Never mind that my mom and I were flying together with a hotel expecting us that night in Madrid. The airlines can just say, "Sorry, our bad, completely your problem!"
But at the last instant, just before they closed the doors they decided they could give me the last seat on the plane. Apparently a passenger never showed up and If I got his name correctly it was Rodrigo Lopez -- presumably not the former major league pitcher, but who knows? Thank you, Mr. Lopez! And so I made it to Madrid...
In the words of the ever wise sages, Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather:
If you know me, you know I am most fond of the smaller villages that are beautiful, authentic, and charming and I am least fond of the cities that are noisy, crowded, commercialized, and polluted. Madrid was the latter, plus I just found the people to be strangely unfriendly. Mostly they seemed to be hurried and harried, and vaguely unhappy. When we asked the owner of a kiosk where the nearby Metro station was, he scowled and pointed in a general direction. When someone walking too fast in a crowd bumped into me, they looked at me like I was quite the nuisance for being there. And whereas in the U.S. one is taught to cough into one's elbow, in Madrid the accepted custom appears to be, "Cough right at Nico with your mouth open."
On the taxi ride to our hotel, the radio blasted a true Spanish classic, Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll". Piped into the hotel lobby was more authentic music of the locals: Michael Jackson's "Black Or White" followed by Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You". One could almost see the Flamenco dancers, especially at the restaurant where I caught Elton John's and Kiki Dee's traditional Spanish duet, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".
Meanwhile the hotel, situated just half a block from the Prado Museum, seemed to trying way too hard to be cool. Apparently, "modern" means a sink that isn't deep enough but compensates by being too wide, random shapes that qualify as "art" and dissonant color schemes adorned with writing at odd angles. Cool? Nope, just weird.
We really did have a good time for the two days we were in Madrid, though, visiting a large mercado (marketplace) and a quiet park, conquering the sardine-like Metro and the buses whose stops appeared to be playing hide-and-seek. And in a square next to the mercado, we even ran into former A's trainer Larry Davis!
But honestly, I could not get out of Madrid fast enough. (Or very fast at all because of, y'know, the ankle.) It was time to head south and pay homage to Bill King by visiting (Holy) Toledo...
GPS and I have never seemed to get along. On the way from Madrid to Toledo, several patterns emerged. First, she would often instruct me to "approach the roundabout and take the 3rd exit" when I needed to take the 2nd exit, or urge me to take the 2nd exit when only the 3rd would do. She also had a tendency to tell me to "exit right" just as I was passing the exit. This is not helpful. But the kicker was when I was driving around a mountainous curve and she clearly announced I should "turn left now". Had I turned left I would have crashed through the rail and plunged into a gorge hundreds of feet below. Perhaps she didn't like me because of the names I would soon begin calling her.
We did get to Toledo safely, somehow, and Toledo has much of the charm Madrid is lacking. It is certainly not short on architectural magnificence, that's fo' shizzle. I did, however, question the architectural integrity of some of the buildings and felt compelled to make sure they didn't fall over.
(Warning: photo may actually be of me doing one of my prescribed physical therapy stretches)
Posadas (outside of Cordoba)
With my mind distracted by my recent breakup with the GPS lady (not), we took the four hour drive from Toledo to Posadas, a small town 20 miles outside of Cordoba. As we passed beautiful maple trees, some with green leaves and others with stunning yellow leaves, I couldn't help but be reminded of the A's. Then again many things remind me of the A's, including pastrami sandwiches, radiators, drywall, and wombats. (It has the word "bat" in it, for criminy's sake -- how am I supposed to not think of the A's?)
I even saw the A's on every hike. Here I am reminded of the A's barren farm system, and you will notice that there is also no Moss. :-(
And how could this scene not remind you of the A's? I mean it's a Crisp morning, there's no attendance there on a weekday, and if you look carefully you can see Billy Butler grazing.
Dilar (outside of Granada)
On the way to Granada, I searched far and wide for a restaurant that was properly green and gold and found one with a perfect strike zone. I'll leave you to guess whether green or gold depicts my "honey hole".
It's darn difficult to hit with a baguette on a knife, let me tell you. I managed it, though, and in unrelated news I'm no longer welcome at that restaurant.
The farther south we drove, the Moor beautiful it seemed to get.
Did I crash the rental car?
You're probably wondering, "So Nico, did you crash the rental car?" Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. So if my last 5 rental cars were an ALDS, "crashed" would have won 3 games to 2 as I have now engineered collisions in Berkeley, San Diego, and Spain.
However, I didn't crash the car for the first time until Toledo. Backing out of the parking garage space in our Toledo hotel, I may have kind of sort of whacked into a post. However, there was no damage to the car so perhaps we can call it a victory. And in fairness, I'm pretty sure that post wasn't there when I started the car.
The serious scare was not a collision. As I was turning left off of a highway on Christmas night, a (probably drunk) driver went right through a stop sign and only reacted to my horn at the last instant to avoid a collision that might have left Cindi in charge of AN. I am glad not to have joined Billy Martin on the list of Christmas Day vehicle fatalities.
Then, visiting a small village called Castro Del Rio, on the way from Posadas to Granada, I took an ill-advised tour through a residential neighborhood whose streets were barely as wide as my rental car. Trying to go around a curve in an object that doesn't bend is about as wise as giving Nate Freiman the steal sign. Despite my careful turns, at one point a wall first jutted out, then jumped out at me just enough to strike the side door and leave an Altuve-sized dent -- which may be small for a baseball player but is actually quite large for a dent. It was clearly the wall's fault, but naturally the wall did not have proper insurance and so I said I would just go ahead and deal with the damage. After all, crashing a rental car is part of my travel budget because let's face it, you know I'm going to do it. Oh, and f^#%@# my life.
Actually, my life isn't so bad with views like this out the hotel window.
I heard coughing and thought maybe one of the patrons had a cold or a sore throat. However, I found him in a stable condition and it turned out he was just a little horse.
Though our visit was to Ronda, we stayed in a tiny city, called Parauta, that is built right into the hillside 17 kilometers away. With no shelter from the wind, Parauta was the coldest of our stops but also one of our very most favorite. There is only one restaurant in Parauta, so we ate there. I ordered the barbecued beef, which turned out to be neither barbecued (it was grilled) nor beef (it was pork). As for Ronda, I think you will agree that it is gorge-ous:
It's also quite beautiful:
By the end of the trip I needed a haircut and where better to find a barber than Seville? Or, as the locals call it, Sevilla. I didn't find a barber but I did find Sevilla to be much nicer than I expected. Even though it's a sizable city it has not sold itself out to tourism and it has all the authenticity, peacefulness and joy that was lacking in Madrid.
By this time, we were so accustomed to seeing beautiful towers and magnificent castles that when we passed one it was like, "Oh, another magnificent castle" and "So shall we turn left at the breathtaking tower?" Not really, though, as the sights are not like anything you will find in every day U.S. living. Here are pictorial and video evidence:
A 45-minute flight from Sevilla to Madrid, a short flight from Madrid to Amsterdam, and a looooooong flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco, and we were home where I could sum up my trip with the all-important question: So is it spring training yet???